Perhaps should we stop glorifying public figures in order to accept them as human beings. The debate born of the MeToo movement “Separating the man from the artist”, the absolute praise of Kobe Bryant since his death, then the criticisms born from the BlackLivesMatter movement targeting Winston Churchill made me think at length about what we should retain from the legacy offered by certain public figures.
It seems to me that there are several factors that come into play.
The first one being the contemporaneity of the personalities. As much as I understand the criticisms formulated against people subject to the same social-cultural standards as us, it does not seem fair to me – in terms of justice and fairness – not to take into account the socio-cultural environment of personalities from another time.
To put it simply, reducing Winston Churchill to a frenzied colonialist does not make sense to me. Born in 1874, he died in 1965 and the man lived – quite fully – the reality of English colonialism. Criticize his colonialist and racist behavior seems really irrelevant to me, since that was the world back then.
The second factor resides in a very human reflex, which is the glorification of the deceased. As an example, let’s take Kobe Bryant, who was a legendary basketball player like there are few. Kobe Bryant was handsome, smart and charming and he knew how to use his name to participate in several philanthropic initiatives. Alas, he also raped a young woman in 2003. He admitted the rape, but his lawyers did such an undermining work that the victim had to move because she received death threats and eventually gave up pursuing him. Kobe Bryant died with his teenage daughter Gigi in 2020 in a helicopter crash that sparked a stir around the world. And upon his death, Kobe Bryant was turned into a legendary figure, a statue which left no room for recalling the wrongdoing he was guilty of.
Turned into a legendary figure, as before was a Churchill. And so many others. Instead of glorifying deceased people, instead of erecting statues of commanders, instead of separating men from artists, could we possibly accept these people as human beings, in their wholeness? Could we stop sculpting them in the collective unconscious as perfect statues? Since no one is perfect, since everyone makes mistakes, since everyone is a being of light and shade (even if not everyone is a racist or a rapist). Knowing how to fully grasp a person’s heritage seems more interesting and more mature to me than admiring statufied monoliths. Reading Churchill’s memoirs can be fascinating even if the reader keeps in mind the underlying colonialism and racism of the man.
Apprehending a person’s heritage allows us to better understand their history, History and also allows us to avoid this kind of latent disappointment that can be perceived at different times with regard to people almost canonized by the public opinion, like Gandhi, Mother Teresa or now Churchill, to name a few.
Apprehending a person’s heritage would probably avoid the vandalization of very real statues this time, or at the very least the prior placement of said statues in places other than in public places.
But to apprehend a person’s heritage, it would be first necessary to review history textbooks. Young children need to refer to statuary monoliths, because they are very reassuring. Adults do not need idols. It is not about “separating”, it is quite the contrary.
In my opinion, it’s about taking everything into account and knowing exactly what we watch, what we read.
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